One of the non-negotiables to a strong marriage is to make that relationship the highest of all human relationships. God designed marriage and part of that design is that it be the priority of earthly relationships.
A priority is known by what is given precedence. Priorities are easy to write down, but sometimes difficult to implement. One way to practice what is essential is to be aware of what competes with it.
There are four common themes that sometimes supplant one’s mate. None of them are wrong and each have an important place in our lives, but they are not to be given priority above the marriage.
- Parents. Of course, we are to honor our parents even after we are married, but our commitment is to be to our spouse when making decisions of how we use our time and money.
The record of the first marriage is given to us in the first book of the Bible and there we’re given a clue as to the importance of the marriage relationship.
“And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” (Gen. 2:21-24)
The Bible says to “leave” our parents and “cleave” unto our spouse after marriage. This is crucial to having a strong marriage.
Four of my children are married. I had a private conversation with my sons and my sons-in-law before the wedding and shared that I wouldn’t interfere with their marriage, but would respect their spiritual leadership. If they wanted counsel I would gladly offer it, but they are responsible for their family.
That’s not easy to do, but it is essential if they are to have a healthy relationship. I must do my part to help them “cleave” to their spouse.
This is one reason it’s not good to live with your parents after you’re married. There may be times when this is necessary because of a move or other challenges, but it ought to be the exception and not the rule.
(There are seasons in life when our aged parents need us and it’s right to care for them. I’m speaking of making sure your spouse knows they are first).
- Children. We mistakenly think that a couple is not a family until they have a child, but that isn’t true. You are a family when you are married. Children extend your family, but they don’t create it; marriage does.
Early on our children need us more, especially Mom. In these days a husband and wife must make special efforts to be alone to share, rest and enjoy life.
Your marriage is more important than your being parents. If you know me you know that I believe in intentional parenting, loving and training your children. However, my beloved children must not take the place of my wife. The best thing a parent can do for their child is to have a good marriage.
Perhaps you might push back on this idea, not because it isn’t true, but because you think it’s not possible. You have several children and it’s difficult to find time (or money) to spend with each other. I understand.
We had seven children (I’m 58 at this writing and have a 16 year old) and though we never neglected them, Paula and I didn’t put them before us. When you have nine people in a family it stretches both your time budget and your financial budget. Yet, we still found some ways to invest in each other.
Sometimes we would go away for a couple of days in Gatlinburg to be refreshed – without the children. My parents and some trusted friends would help care for them while we were gone. It was a value to us and I hope that same value transmitted to our children that they would do the same when they are married.
My kids are the greatest joys of my life, but my wife comes before them.
- Job. Your marriage is more important than your job. Men tend to struggle with this more than women. Men have a desire to conquer and achieve.
After he “catches” his wife the thrill of the game is gone so he transfers his interest in his work. This is a grave mistake. If you aren’t constantly working to win the heart of your wife by your words and affection, someone else will. And this happens where she works more than any other place.
At work people see you at your best – creative, dressed nicely, guarded in your reactions., kind. At home our family gets the leftovers of our time, energy, and thoughtfulness if we aren’t careful.
If the lady that is flirting with you saw the same person you are at home she might not be as interested in you. Likewise, for a woman that is being pursued by another man at her job.
I made a commitment after I was married to practice three principles that would help me not get entangled in a wrong relationship at work.
(1) I wouldn’t go out to eat alone with someone of the opposite sex. (2) I purposed not to talk about any personal problems or stresses in my marriage with someone of the opposite sex. (3) I have been careful not to become too familiar or overly friendly with someone of the opposite sex.
By the grace of God I have been able to keep those promises. I don’t want my job to compete with my wife in the way I behave there or in my time relative to what I give to Paula.
Friend, live for the people that will come to your funeral. They will miss you most. I’m married to my wife, not my job.
I give my job my best and I hope those that I serve would agree with that. But I can always get another church; I can’t get another wife.
- Hobbies. Hobbies are good servants, but poor masters. It is good to have some type of diversion in your life, but sometimes our hobbies become priorities in our time and finances.
I’ve known men that spent more time and money on golf and accessories than their wife. It could be fishing, hunting, camping, attending sporting events.
Your hobby should be something that enables you to be a better husband (or wife) and not to cause her (or him) to be jealous or insecure.
About ten years ago I was working at home on some things for church and was distracted while Paula was talking to me. She called me on it and said sadly, “Rick, you’re always working”.
She left the room, but her words didn’t leave my mind. She was right.
All occupations have their hazards, but the ministry is one that is especially challenging with this issue of bringing work home. Sermons and lessons always need attention. Problems of people for whom you pastor and love are constantly on your heart. Emergencies in the congregation come and you’re pulled away from a night at home.
I’m not complaining; it’s just a fact of life for me. My work life still bleeds over in my home life sometimes, but I’m better about it. I don’t want Paula (or my kids) to feel like I have given them my second-best.
One day, if the norm of life is true, I will die first. My wife and children will walk into a room in a funeral home, stand by an open casket and look at my body. What will they say?
“Dad sure did love his job”.
“He really excelled in his hobbies”.
“Dad spent a lot of time with other people helping them”.
They will say something. I want my children to be able to say with integrity that I loved their mother (and them) with all I had. I want Paula to be able to say that there was no other human relationship or activity that competed with her.
If this happens, it won’t be an accident. May God help us to keep priorities that would please the Lord and bless our family.